Blue ribbon panel: Business-related teamwork crucialIf Red Wing is to become a poster child for small town economic development, local leaders must combine their efforts, re-brand the city's image and foster homegrown businesses, according to a recent report authored by a mayoral panel.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
If Red Wing is to become a poster child for small town economic development, local leaders must combine their efforts, re-brand the city's image and foster homegrown businesses, according to a recent report authored by a mayoral panel.
The report -- written by Mayor John Howe's "blue ribbon" panel - was accepted by City Council during a special meeting Tuesday.
"This is the kind of thing we've been wanting and waiting for," Council member Lisa Bayley said.
Council members were largely complimentary of the report, though some public officials did make criticisms.
The panel had asked council to incorporate the report into its comprehensive plan, the document that guides Red Wing's development. The council did not take action on that request Tuesday.
City Council President Mike Schultz said the council will consider that measure at a future meeting.
In its report, the panel says it envisions Red Wing leading Minnesota "in the retention and development of high technology, entrepreneurial and small businesses by 2015."
Whether Red Wing reaches that goal hinges largely on city agencies, like the Port Authority, and independent business groups like the Chamber of Commerce finding a way to work together in a more efficient and cohesive way, the report says.
That was the "most central finding of the whole thing," said the panel's co-chairman, Scott Wordelman.
Council members seemed to agree that some level of integration among Red Wing's economic development organs would be a good thing.
But the trick is figuring out how best to do it, Bayley said.
"The devil is in the details and I'm concerned about how do we get this done?" she said during the meeting.
The report also states the city should focus its resources on helping current businesses grow rather than exhaust its efforts trying to lure a major manufacturer.
"The panel's belief is that the future of Red Wing is to focus on its core small business base to ensure their success, growth and long-term commitment to the community," the report states.
Wordelman said Red Wing is limited in the businesses it can draw because it's not located along a four-lane highway, nor does it have numerous large tracts of land available for development. Not that the city would turn its back on a large manufacturer interested in moving to Red Wing, Wordelman said.
Myron White, Port Authority executive director, agreed Red Wing isn't always well set up to attract large businesses.
Meanwhile, White said, the port is working on programs to help small entrepreneurs.
One idea, he said, is a proposed contest, in which the port would to lend money to a person who could write a winning business plan.
There's also been talk of setting up an "incubator," White said. An incubator would be a low-cost location where a fledgling business could grow unburdened by overhead costs. White suggested the program could also provide technical help to the small business owners.
A third recommendation the panel made was Red Wing should work to recreate its image, or lack thereof.
"Red Wing is not perceived to be a politically friendly place to do business," Wordelman said. "Whether that's true or not we have to deal with it."
Co-chairman Dennis Egan said the other thing panel members heard from outsiders is sometimes Red Wing is not thought of at all when it comes to business relocation.
New marketing efforts can help the city's image, Wordelman said. But more important is establishing a business-friendly environment that will make a marketing pitch ring true, he said.
Public officials also had some criticisms of the report.
Port Board member Nona Nelson noted only one panel member represented labor interests.
"Who's representing the working people, the common man?" Nelson asked during the meeting. "Mike Murphy is the only one representing these people and these people are most of Red Wing."
Red Wing Housing and Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Randal Hemmerlin, while complimentary, said the report lacked some things. He asked why the report didn't focus on the growth of the city and Red Wing's status as a regional center.
He added, in general, he believes the city is suffering from "planning fatigue." Hemmerlin said he wants to see more action.
"Let's do something. Let's get something done," he said.
Howe assembled the panel in January and tasked them with drafting a new economic development game plan for Red Wing. The group of local business owners and civic-minded residents has met over the past seven months in meetings that included lectures and workshops. The city budgeted $7,500 for a professional facilitator to support the panel.